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PJR-010 Use Permit Application Requirements

Permit and Resource Management Department Banner 750

Revised 07/10/2018

This information is intended to provide a checklist for applicants to ensure that their applications for a Use Permit are as complete as possible when submitted to Permit Sonoma to facilitate permit processing.

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This handout is intended to provide a checklist for applicants to ensure that their applications for a use permit are as complete as possible when submitted to Permit Sonoma to facilitate permit processing.  The Sonoma County Code sets forth both uses that are “Permitted Uses” and “Uses Permitted with a Use Permit” within each zoning district.  Examples of uses requiring a Use Permit are: wineries, kennels, contractor storage yards, planned developments and mixed use projects.  A Use Permit application is required for uses that are typically more intensive than Permitted Uses or may not be the principal purpose for the district.  Use Permit applications require an opportunity for public hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustments.  For minor modifications to existing land uses or where the use is minor in nature, the use permit can be approved administratively by planning staff.  In these cases, the public hearing may be waived, if no comments are received after notice is provided to neighboring property owners.  When a particular use also requires a Zone Change and/or a General Plan Amendment, the public hearing must be held before the Planning Commission and ultimately, the Board of Supervisors.

Use Permits are discretionary in nature and may require site specific studies conducted by qualified professionals related to biotic and cultural resources, water availability, noise, traffic and other issues. A Use Permit can only be approved if found to be consistent with the Sonoma County General Plan, applicable Area or Specific Plans, the Zoning Code and that the use is compatible with the health, safety, and general welfare of the neighborhood.  Use permits can take 6 months up to several years to process, depending upon the completeness of the application, the complexity of the project and level of environmental review, and the level of neighborhood controversy.  If approved, the use permit will include conditions of approval that must be met prior to vesting the use.  Once the conditions of approval have been met, the use permit is considered vested and will run with the land and benefit all subsequent property owners (unless the use is limited term).


After an application is submitted and the project planner in the Project Review Division of the Permit and Resource Management Department (Permit Sonoma) is assigned to the project, the application will be reviewed for completeness to determine if all the required information is provided.  Within 30 days of submittal, the applicant will be notified of any additional information required and given a reasonable amount of time to resubmit.  An appointment with the project planner is recommended for resubmittal of required application materials.  Applicants will generally be given 3 to 6 months to complete an application or it will be deemed withdrawn. Processing timelines begin only when an application is deemed complete.  Once the application is deemed complete, a notification is sent to neighboring properties advising them of the proposed use.  The application materials are also sent to other divisions of Permit Sonoma, other County departments, and local agencies for review, comment and condition(s).  Environmental review in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is required unless the proposed project is specifically exempt.  Additional information or studies may be required to complete processing of the application.  The project planner will prepare an Initial Study that assesses the potential environmental impacts and identifies mitigation measures to reduce potential impacts to a less than significant level that will be added as conditions of approval. If the project planner determines that no significant environmental impact will result from the proposed project, as conditioned, a Negative Declaration, or Mitigated Negative Declaration, will be prepared.

After the Negative Declaration (or Mitigated Negative Declaration) is completed, the proposed Use Permit will be set for a public hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustments or the Planning Commission. A notice of the public hearing is posted at the property and sent to owners of the property within 300 feet of the site. A copy of recommended conditions and/or mitigation is sent to the applicant prior to the hearing date. All interested persons are given an opportunity to comment on the proposed Use Permit at the public hearing. If the project is approved by the Board or Commission, there is a ten (10) day appeal period for appeals to the Board of Supervisors. For approved use permits, the applicant generally has 24 months to comply with the conditions of approval and implement the Use Permit. The applicant may apply for a one year extension of time prior to the expiration of this 24 month period. 

Required Application Materials

The following materials are required for submission of all use permit applications. Due to the large volume of applications, incomplete applications may not be accepted. All application materials must be submitted in electronic format (scanned copies or PDF files) in addition to the paper copies. A complete application must include all of the following:

  1. Applications. Planning application form PJR-001 (PDF) signed by all property owners. If the owner or applicant is a corporation, documents identifying the officers of the corporation must also be submitted. An original signed paper copy and scanned copy in electronic format is required.
  2. Supplemental Application. Many types of permits require additional supplemental application information for the type of application (PJR-126).
  3. Indemnification Agreement. An Indemnification Agreement form PJR-011 (PDF), signed by the applicant.
  4. Location/Vicinity Map. Provide one 8.5 inches X 11 inches location/vicinity map (locator map or road map) showing where the project is located in relation to nearby lots, streets, and highways.
  5. Assessor's Parcel Map. Provide one copy (8.5 inches X 11 inches) of the current Assessor's Parcel Map with the project site shown. Maps may be obtained from the County Assessor's Office or Permit Sonoma.
  6. Project Description/Proposal Statement. One paper copy and one electronic file. This should be a detailed written description of the current and proposed uses of the property following the outline contained in the attached handout. A thorough, detailed and quantified project description is required for a complete application and will facilitate the permit process and reduce processing timelines.
  7. Site Plan. Provide an electronic copy and three full-sized site plans (either 24 inches by 36 inches folded to 8.5 inches by 11 inches or 11 inches by 17 inches) and one reduced site plan (8.5 inches by 11 inches). All plans must be legible, drawn to scale and include a north arrow, bar scale, project name/applicant, name of preparer, date prepared and date of any revisions. Preparation of the required site plan by a draftsperson, architect, landscape architect or engineer is strongly recommended. Site plans must include, at a minimum, the information required on the Site Plan Requirements for Planning Applications below. If the existing site is to be significantly modified by the proposed project (i.e. removal of existing buildings, extensive grading and removal of vegetation), both an existing site plan and a proposed site plan should be submitted.
  8. Floor Plans. A detailed floor plan with dimensions, square footage and use of all rooms and use areas, including storage, mezzanine, garages or accessory structures. Show all fixtures and appliances, including bathrooms, kitchens (indoor and outdoor), laundry rooms, wet bars, break rooms etc. Clearly define areas that are open to the general public and areas for employees only.
  9. Title Report. A preliminary title report prepared within the last year must be submitted with the application for new development. The title report will detail any conditions, covenants and restrictions, easements, agreements, deed notices or other restrictions on the property. Applicants may obtain title reports from any title company. Please include copies of any easements, agreements or restrictions on the property.
  10. Preliminary Site Grading, Storm Water Management and Drainage Plan. Provide three, full-sized copies (same size and scale as site plan above) and one legible, reduced size copy (8.5 inches X 11 inches) of the preliminary site grading and drainage plan. The preliminary grading plan must indicate existing and proposed contours across the building site and the limits of grading. Existing contours shall be shown with light or dashed lines and proposed contours shall be shown with darker solid lines. The amount of proposed excavation and fill in cubic yards and the location of proposed deposition and borrow sites for each major element of the project must be indicated. The limits of grading and the total area of disturbance for proposed for the project must be clearly delineated. The grading plan shall be drawn at the same scale as the site plan. The total amount of any off-haul shall be identified in cubic yards and the location of the deposition.

    Identify the location and square footage of existing wetlands, waterways and drainage and proposed areas for storm water treatment. Applicants can discuss requirements at the Storm Water cubicle at Permit Sonoma.
  11. Preliminary Architectural Plans.Provide three full-sized copies (either 24 inches X 36 inches or 11 inches X 17 inches) and one legible, reduced size (8.5 inches X 11 inches) copy of all architectural elevations and floor plans. Structural plans are not required until application is made for building permits. The elevations must identify the type, materials and color of the roof and other exterior materials. All mechanical equipment, exterior lights, trash enclosures, loading and storage areas, and other exterior structures or uses must be shown on these plans. A cross-section is required for each structure showing the location of natural grade underneath the structure; the building’s height must be identified on the section (measured from the average of the highest and lowest points of the lot covered by the structure to the topmost point of the roof).
  12. Preliminary Landscape and Irrigation Plans. Provide three, full-sized copies and one legible, reduced size (Same scale and size as Site Plan above) copy of the preliminary landscape plans.
  13. Accessibility Requirements. New construction and remodeling of, or additions to, existing facilities must meet State of California accessibility requirements, which may include but is not limited to accessible parking spaces, accessible path of travel and accessible restrooms. Applicants should discuss building code requirements at the Building cubicle at Permit Sonoma.
  14. Fire & Emergency Services. New development is also subject to requirements of Fire and Emergency Services and must meet fire code. Sprinklers are required in new structures, adequate water supply for fire suppression and access must accommodate fire trucks to and around structures and have turn around areas. Rural roads must meet Fire Safe Standards. Applicants should discuss the fire code requirements at the Fire and Emergency Services cubicle at Permit Sonoma.
  15. Filing Fee. See the current Permit Sonoma Project Review Fee Schedule. Filing fees include the Planning Application fees and additional referral fees for referrals to other divisions and departments. Please be aware that other development impact fees may be applied to the project at the time of building permit issuance, recordation of the map, or activation of the use.
  16. At-Cost Agreement. Many planning applications are processed on an at-cost basis and an At-cost agreement is required at the time of application submittal to provide a minimum fee and deposit sufficient to cover the cost of staff work on the project. Deposits must be maintained to cover staff costs or work may be halted on the project.
    PJR-095 At-Cost Project Reimbursement(PDF)

Guideline for the Preparation of Project Descriptions and Proposal

This outline is intended to provide a guideline for the preparation of Project Descriptions and Proposal Statements required for use permit applications or other land use planning permits.  A thorough, detailed and quantified project description is required for a complete application and will facilitate the project review and permitting process, reduce processing timelines and help ensure a well-designed project.   Project Descriptions should follow the outline below.   Where a particular topic does not apply, the project description should indicate why.

Constraints Analysis

This section should evaluate the constraints affecting the parcel, such as, slope, sensitive biotic habitats, creeks, easements, restrictions, proximity other sensitive land uses (i.e. schools, hospitals, residential), utilities, easements, access limitations, water availability, and septic suitability.  Provide an analysis of how the proposed project would avoid or address these constraints.

  • Project Site:   Describe the project location, size of the parcel, general typography and slope, existing land uses and vegetation on the site and in the surrounding area.  Include the square footage of all existing structures and outdoor use areas, wells, septic systems, and parking areas. 
  • Surrounding Uses:   Identify the type of surrounding land uses and approximate distance from the nearest property line and the proposed use.   Identify the proximity of other sensitive land uses including residences, hospitals, and schools. 
  • Easements & Utilities:  Identify the location and purpose of any existing or proposed easements and utilities. These are usually identified in a title report and copies can be obtained from the County Recorder’s office or a title company.
  • Covenants and Restrictions:   Identify and provide copies of any covenants, conditions and restrictions that apply to the parcel.  These are usually identified in a title report and copies can be obtained from the County Recorder’s office or a title company.
  • Farming Operations: Identify all existing farming operations on the site and in the vicinity, and whether the parcel is within an Agricultural Preserve as shown on the Assessor’s Parcel Maps.  Identify any areas where existing agricultural operations are proposed to be displaced (i.e. vines or orchard removed) and any measures to preserve, diversify and protect the agricultural capability of the land.  If the property is within an Agricultural Preserve and under a Land Conservation Contract, a Landowner Compliance Statement PJR-049) is also required, demonstrating that the existing and proposed use of the property is in compliance with the Land Conservation Contract.  
  • Waterways and Drainage:  Describe the location and extent of all waterways including creeks, streams, gulches, wetlands, ponds, reservoirs, drainage ditches, or other water features.
  • Vegetation: Describe the predominant vegetation on the site and within the development area.  Identify the size and proximity of any wetlands, creeks or riparian areas, or woodlands and whether the project will require fill, crossings or otherwise disturb these areas.  A biotic assessment and wetland delineation may be required.
  • Tree Protection:  Describe the type and size of trees to be removed and any measures to preserve and protect these natural features.  Include a table with the total number of each tree species, the size (diameter at breast height) to be removed or retained.   An arborist report may be required.
  • Noise:  Describe the existing ambient noise conditions (rural or urban) and describe all proposed activities and facilities or site features that will produce noise, such as parking and loading areas, outdoor heating and ventilation equipment, crush pads, bottling equipment, outdoor storage areas, outdoor patios, picnic and event areas.  Describe the location and distance from noise sources to the property lines of the nearest sensitive receptors including residences, schools and hospitals.  Provide the distance from noise sources to property lines. Depending on the noise source and the distance to property lines, a Noise Study prepared by a qualified professional may be required.  Refer to the County’s Guidelines for Preparation of Noise Analysis available at Permit Sonoma.
  • Hazards:   Discuss potential hazards and measures to mitigate those hazards including flood, wildfire, landslides, and earthquake.   Maps illustrating hazard areas are found in the Sonoma County General Plan Public Safety Element.

Proposed Project

  • Proposed Land Uses:  Identify location, square footage, number of floors and type of uses for all existing and proposed structures and land uses on the parcel, include all outdoor use areas, fences, driveways, patios, utilities, wells, septic systems and parking areas. 
  • Setbacks:  Describe the distance to property lines for all existing structures and outdoor use areas (i.e. outdoor storage, loading and parking areas). 
  • Heights:  Include the height of all structures, including buildings, fences, retaining walls, and accessory structures. 
  • Lot Coverage:   Provide the total area in square feet of the lot covered by buildings and structures for the building lot coverage; provide the total area in square feet of the lot covered by impervious surfaces.
  • Hours of Operation: Identify the hours of operation proposed for all land uses.
  • Employees: Identify the number of employees anticipated initially and at full implementation or build out of the project.
  • Storage Areas: Identify size, dimensions and location of all areas used for storage and type of materials to be stored.  Include both indoor and outdoor storage areas.
  • Visitors: Estimate the number of visitors per day at full implementation of the use.
  • Marketing Plan/Promotional Activities and Events:  If the use involves events or promotional activities in agricultural areas, provide a summary of the marketing plan, including a table summarizing the type of activity or the type of event (wedding, winemaker dinner, fundraiser, etc), number of events per month and year, hours of operation, maximum number of persons/participants, number of employees, type of food service, and outdoor use areas and whether music or amplified sound is proposed.
  • Food Service: Indicate if food is proposed to be served to the public and the type of facilities proposed for food service, the square footage of the area for food service, the number of seats or persons that can be served, and the hours of operation.

Housing Plan

Housing Plan. For all discretionary projects, including commercial and industrial projects, a Housing Plan is required describing how housing needs generated by the project will be met including a statement describing how the project will comply with the provisions of the County Code for Affordable Housing or Workforce Housing as applicable (i.e., provision of units, payment of in-lieu fees, or alternative equivalent action).  The Housing Plan shall include a listing of the number, type, size, tenure, number of bedrooms, and proposed affordability level for each and every unit within the development.  Refer to Article 89 of the Sonoma County Code for minimum housing requirements.

Circulation Plan

A traffic study prepared by a qualified engineer is required for proposed land uses that generate 25 trips or more during the peak hours.   Traffic Studies must be consistent with the County’s Traffic Impact Study Guidelines.   The following information should be included in the Project Description:

  • Site Access and Circulation:  Include a detailed discussion of the proposed onsite circulation and the circulation patterns in the vicinity of the project.  Identify and provide widths of roadway or pathways and length of site access for vehicles, trucks, bicycles and pedestrians.  Indicate whether the site access is from a public roadway or private road easement.  Describe the condition of the roadway and any potential issues with sight distance at driveway entrances.
  • Traffic Generation:   Estimate the anticipated trip generation for all types of uses proposed, include employee trips, truck trips and general public.  Include the peak period daily trips and the average daily trips.   For land uses involving weekend hours, include weekend trip generation.  See the trip generation forms (link).  Trip generation rates for various types of land uses are published by the Institute of Traffic Engineers and can be used and compared with project specific trip estimates.
  • Parking:  Identify the total square footage and dimensions of all parking areas, including overflow parking areas and the size, number and type of parking spaces (include bicycle parking, accessible vehicle parking and electric vehicle charging stations) and the type of surface proposed.  New or expanded uses must meet on‑site parking requirements contained in the Zoning Code (Article 86). Parking lot layouts must conform to the dimensions shown in the Off‑Street Parking Design Standards (Article 82).
  • Loading Areas: Identify location, size, dimension and access for all loading areas.  Provide an estimate of the number of annual and average daily truck trips.
  • Transit:   Discuss the proximity to transit and transit headways, including rail and bus services.  Describe existing pedestrian and bicycle access and how the access is planned in the County’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

Utilities and Services

  • Water Supply: Identify the type of water supply (public water, mutual water, or private well) and describe the location and depth of the supply well(s) for the use.  A Groundwater Study may be required if located within a water scarce area (Groundwater Availability Class 3 and 4 – add link to map) or within a medium or high priority Groundwater Management Basin.
  • Water Conservation Plan:  Provide an estimate of the annual water demand for the use and a Water Conservation Plan including all reasonably feasible measures to reduce water and energy demand to the maximum extent feasible, enhance water resource recovery to maintain sustainable water supplies.  Measures that must be evaluated include:  installation of low-flow fixtures, best available conservation technologies for all water uses, rainwater and storm water collection systems and graywater reuse.
  • Sewage Disposal System:  Describe the location, size, dimensions, and type of sewage disposal system (i.e. public sewer or on-site septic system).
  • Storm Water Management Plan: Provide description of storm water management including runoff, treatment, drainage, and flood control.  If applicable, provide location and square footage of existing wetlands and identify measures to avoid them.  An alternative analysis should be required demonstrating why the wetlands cannot be avoided.  If the project is subject to Standard Urban Storm Water Management Plan (SUSMP) requirements, then a Preliminary Storm Water Mitigation Plan is required.  Applicants can discuss this SUSMP requirement with Storm Water staff.
  • Solid Waste Disposal:  Identify opportunities to minimize waste and for recycling and reuse.  Describe the location, size and access for trash enclosures.
  • Fire and Emergency Services:  Describe the type and location of emergency services relative to the project site.  Is the site located in a high fire hazard area?   Is the access adequate for fire and emergency vehicles?
  • Energy Conservation Plan:  Provide an estimate of the annual energy demand for the use including electrical, natural or propane gas, and transportation fuels, and an Energy Conservation Plan including all reasonably feasible measures to reduce energy demand and incorporate renewable energy.  An estimate of Greenhouse Gas Emissions study related to energy use may be required.

Proposed Design

  • Architectural Design Style:  Describe the architectural style, design, materials, finishes and colors for all buildings and structures, including roofs, fences, walls or other site features.   Include a discussion of lighting plan.  If the site is located in a Scenic Resource area, story poles and/or visual simulation may be required.
  • Landscaping and Fencing:  Identify all landscape and outdoor use areas, including dimensions and size of all turf areas, tree plantings, gardens, landscape, patios, trash enclosures, type of irrigation proposed, fencing, walls, hedges and other landscape features (i.e. ponds, pools, berms, etc.)
  • Construction Methods & Timing:   Provide details regarding the type and extent of construction required, the construction methods, extent of grading, quantities of cuts and fills, location of any deposits or spoils, the duration and hours of construction, and the location of staging areas.  Note if any blasting or pile driving is proposed. 

Site Plan Requirements for Planning Applications

A site plan is required when submitting this Planning application to Permit Sonoma.

View PJR-129 Site Plan Requirements for Planning Applications